I’ve been wanting to start reading Doctor Who novels for quite a while now. Unfortunately, this one demotes the Doctor to something of a casual observer, and he is effectively stripped of his personality, leaving a Doctor that we neither know, nor do we love.
Doctor Who and the Coming of the Terraphiles begins with a fascinating concept. The Doctor is a member of a sort of Earth fan-club, who get together and play games that (they think) people from Old Earth played. Of course, everyone but the Doctor is from the far future, so they have a very mistaken idea of what life was like on “Old Earth,” providing for some very comical moments throughout the story.
The true conflict of the story, however, is that the entire multiverse is in danger of being destroyed. Moorcock is a bit fuzzy on the details, but in order to restore balance, the Doctor and his team must play these Old Earth games and win the arrow trophy, which in actuality is the Regulator that will restore order to the multiverse.
But lest you be too excited by the prospect of playing Old Earth games that we have never played on Earth and which are never explained in any way shape or form, there’s the mysterious case of the missing hat, which Moorcock fails to tell us the importance of until the book is half-way over.
In fact, the first half of the book spends little time on the Doctor and Amy, and is more concerned with Bingo Lockesley, a nobody who agreed to steal the hat in question, so that he could own a planet and make his best friend a lord of some sort, so that his best friend would then be able to propose to the girl of his dreams. In effect, this whole storyline is more of a soft soap opera than a science fiction thriller, the story suffering greatly from too many characters who really are not important at all to the primary conflict.
The worst of these is undoubtedly Cornelius, whom the book opens with. In subtle, short chapters throughout the book, it plays him up as this important character who will, with the Doctor, save the multiverse. Instead, by the time he reaches the Time Lord, the Doctor has pretty much figured it out, and Cornelius’ role is among the most pointless aspects of the book, which really is saying something.
Even when the book turns its attention more to the Doctor, things don’t get much better. This is supposed to be Matt Smith’s Doctor, yet there’s not a glimpse of the hyper nature that so well defines him. Instead, he’s a calm and often reserved character, making us wonder if he simply slapped the Doctor’s name onto another character which was totally unconnected to the universe as a whole.
To be fair, however, the other characters are written well. Moorcock does a fabulous job at writing Amy, and the original characters are fleshed out quite well. The problem is that these characters have nothing to do with the primary conflict, and that the story lacks a real villain. The one who was supposed to be the villain, General Force, only encounters the protagonists once, and the Doctor deals with him by a simple arrow in the behind, with only brief mentions of the villainous duo of Frank/Freddie Force after the fact.
That’s not to say there’s nothing redeeming here. There’s certainly aspects of bravery and putting others before self in this story, including Bingo’s consistent concern for his friend Hari, but this is not at its heart a Doctor Who story. It’s a science fiction story with the Doctor slapped on top, and that shows quite badly.
If you truly want a Doctor Who story, you should move on. This one isn’t for you. Even beyond the obvious qualities of a Doctor Who story that this book lacks, it still isn’t a good book on its own merit, as Moorcock fails to explain many things about his world until well after the elements are introduced, at which point he’s already lost his readers. In a genre that’s so overstuffed with material, you should look elsewhere for quality imaginative science fiction.